Of mice and gorillas: how wild species may benefit from mouse genetic data

Of mice and gorillas: how wild species may benefit from mouse genetic data

29 May 2018 - 17:23

About the study

  • Researchers use mouse models to understand human health and disease
  • A new study compared mouse genetic data with data from gorillas and other wild mammals to reveal new insights into mammalian health and disease
  • This type of analysis could be used to improve the breeding management of endangered mammals

May 30, Cambridge - Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) alongside other colleagues from the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC) compared genetic data from mice with data from gorillas, showing how such analyses could aid in the identification of genes essential for healthy development.

Based on the results, published in Conservation Genetics, the researchers believe that IMPC data, currently used to understand human disease, could also help in the identification of genes essential for development or associated with disease in other mammals, such as the cheetah, polar bear, wolf, panda and cattle.

Current breeding approaches could be improved when supplemented with mouse genetic functional data, by allowing researchers to identify the matches that are most likely to produce healthy offspring or preserve genetic variation that is important for adaptation.

What is the IMPC?

The IMPC is an international endeavour to systematically identify the function of every gene in the mouse. Despite having the entire genomes of many species at our fingertips, the exact function of most genes remains a mystery. To address this issue, the IMPC is phenotyping 20,000 genes before 2021. The phenotypic data the IMPC collects allows to identify the physiological systems that are disrupted when a gene is disabled and thus link gene with function.

The main aim of the project is to generate data that help us understand human health and disease, but this latest paper shows how the data could also be useful for studying other mammalian species.

Web: www.mousephenotype.org/

Of mice and gorillas

“When the number of individuals of a species dramatically decreases, loss of genetic variation takes place,” explains Violeta Muñoz-Fuentes, Biologist at EMBL-EBI. “Losing genetic variation increases the chances of genetic defects accumulating in the offspring, which get manifested through health issues, ultimately resulting in reduced fertility or life span.

"When the number of individuals of a species dramatically decreases, loss of genetic variation takes place," Violeta Muñoz-Fuentes, Biologist at EMBL-EBI

“Many zoos and wildlife conservation centres are seeing excellent results through their breeding programmes. Currently, many focus on minimising inbreeding. By adding a functional genetic dimension to the selective process, conservation geneticists can identify the crosses that would, for example, avoid a gene variant linked to disease in the offspring.”

For example, heart disease is a common cause of death for gorillas in captivity. By identifying gorilla genes linked to heart disease, researchers could help better understand the cause for the condition, which is the first step to envisage ways to prevent it. Similarly, this type of data could help identify genes linked to adaptation in certain mammals. For example, genes associated with fat metabolism can be a real asset for species like polar bears, which have diets rich in fats in the extreme environment of the Arctic.

“Using genetic data to supplement breeding is very promising, but we also need to address the conditions that lead to the decrease of individuals in the first place; otherwise, the accumulation of genetic defects will likely take place again,” continues Muñoz-Fuentes.

A tool for conservation genetics

Although this type of research is still in the very early stages, gene functional knowledge is a powerful tool for maximising adaptive genetic diversity within a species and reducing genetic variants that negatively affect an individual's health and survival. The IMPC is also contributing to the rapid advancement of gene editing techniques, such as CRISPR/Cas9, which could help endangered wildlife in future conservation projects.

IMPC would like to encourage conservation geneticists, conservation centres and zoos to get in touch via the IMPC website if they are interested in using IMPC data for conservation purposes.

Discover more

Source article

MUÑOZ-FUENTES, V, et al. (2018). The International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC): a functional catalogue of the mammalian genome that informs conservation. Conservation Genetics. Published online 19 May. DOI: 10.1007/s10592-018-1072-9

Read more on the IMPC blog.

This research was partly funded by NIH grant 1U54HG006370, title: Mouse Phenotyping Informatics Infrastructure; 01/08/2016 - 31/07/2021.

Contact the news team

Oana Stroe
Communications Officer
stroe@ebi.ac.uk
+44 (0)1223 494 369

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